'Priceless collection' in Russia was never registered so is therefore worthless and does not officially exist, say developers
August 9, 2010 2:31 PM   Subscribe

In 1926, Nikolai Vavilov founded the world's first modern seedbank, and amassed a collection which today contains over 90% unique varieties of plant, contained in no other collection in existence. For his opposition to Lysenkoism he died in prison, and several of his colleagues famously starved to death instead of eating their specimens during the Siege of Leningrad. Now the Pavlovsk seedbank facility has been seized by the Federal Agency for Public Estate Management, and pending a court ruling will be demolished - contents and all - to build a housing development. The collection cannot be moved in time because it is a working seedbank of living plants.
posted by mek (40 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Holy shit... there really simply are no words


(Priceless = worthless) my ass
posted by Blasdelb at 2:37 PM on August 9, 2010

Obligatory Decemberists, from "When the War Came":

We made our oath to Vavilov
We'd not betray the solanum
The acres of asteraceae
To our own pangs of starvation
posted by lumensimus at 2:38 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Shocking and horrible, but what can be done? Probably nothing, unless some deus ex machina can step in and save the day. Totally awful. Like burning Alexandrian libraries, only for private profit this time.
posted by hippybear at 2:40 PM on August 9, 2010

Yep, this is terrible.

Hopefully if the worst happens, some DNA from each plant will be taken for cloning purposes or something. All for a stinking housing development.
posted by elder18 at 2:52 PM on August 9, 2010

this hurts civilisation.
posted by ouke at 2:56 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

the property developers argue that because the station contains a "priceless collection", no monetary value can be assigned to it and so it is worthless.

That's ... but that's ... not how that works! For fuck's sake human beings. Come on. You're better than this.
posted by penduluum at 3:00 PM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

That's ... but that's ... not how that works!

Actually, from the FPP links found here, apparently that IS how it works. Seems reverse-intuitive to me, but most of economics makes little sense to my tiny brain.
posted by hippybear at 3:02 PM on August 9, 2010

Can someone in Russia comment on this? I thought that the Siege-of-Leningrad story was rather famous over there, and a point of national pride...
posted by mr_roboto at 3:17 PM on August 9, 2010

> point of national pride
That was the USSR.
This is capitalist "Russia"
Nobody wants to buy it? It's worthless.
posted by hank at 3:33 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

What the fucking fuck!
posted by cmoj at 3:43 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Shit like this is why I give the species 100 years at best.
posted by zjacreman at 3:43 PM on August 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

We went round the Siege of Leningrad museum two years ago: they kept having to turn the lights on as we went round. My understanding is that Leningrad was/is too independent and a rival to Moscow, so it does not get much help or respect.
posted by alasdair at 3:43 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Shit like this is why I give the species 100 years at best.

And why I think it's probably a good thing.
posted by Epenthesis at 3:55 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm vaguely optimistic this might be one of those "bridge too far" abuses. Like when it turned out Foxconn security threw a guy who lost an iPhone off a roof. Or when Bush tried to hand over port security to a well connected firm in Dubai. Or the Kelo decision. Standard corrupt and abusive practice, but there's a live wire in there that causes people to actually pay attention. The live wire in this case being Russian nationalism and pride over the Great Patriotic War.

It won't change the overall pattern of corruption, since it never actually does, but it might force the developers to back off in this specific case.
posted by Grimgrin at 4:08 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is good. Demolition will only make the seeds stronger, to produce more crops for the people.

Really though, Kansas needs to take note of Lysenkoism and what sort of destruction and starvation comes along with the disbelief in evolution.
posted by destro at 4:33 PM on August 9, 2010

I will buy this collection.
posted by DU at 4:44 PM on August 9, 2010

DU, I will compete with you to buy it. Together we can drive the price up!
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:57 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

The problem is apparently that there's no time to move the specimens. In theory, some rich person could just pay off the developers for a few months while the move them.

Whatever happened to that antarctic lake that the Russians were going to drill down into, and everyone was worried that they could potentially contaminate with life, (if it existed down there)?
posted by delmoi at 5:06 PM on August 9, 2010


posted by limeonaire at 5:24 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Well, the Russian site I checked out said the lot was up for auction starting at 98 million rubles, which is only about $3.3 million. If a suitably well-financed organization felt strongly enough about it, they could probably make it work.

(Incidentally, the property was split up into two lots, and the organization appealed the decision to a court, which denied the appeal on the first lot. The trial for the second lot is scheduled for tomorrow.)
posted by nasreddin at 5:48 PM on August 9, 2010

Though shall not spill thy seed on the ground, or neighbours wife, or something like that
posted by Merlin The Happy Pig at 5:58 PM on August 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

How is it that US academic institutions are not ALL OVER THIS? That kind of money is a drop in the bucket to a Michigan or a Harvard.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:01 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

$3.3 million can't be coughed up to help save the genetic heritage of what keeps mankind alive?

If this is even remotely accurate...I don't know what one could say about that.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 6:12 PM on August 9, 2010

What is it with condo developments? They're really the cancer of humanity.
posted by Dr. Send at 6:52 PM on August 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'd bet that the folks from Svalbard might be interested in swooping down there and grabbing a few things.
posted by Twang at 7:47 PM on August 9, 2010

This is a tragedy. Sacrificing themselves for the seed bank made those Russians some of my scientific heroes. When will people stop burning the libraries?
posted by notionoriety at 8:20 PM on August 9, 2010

This makes me so mad I could lick the white crud off a car battery terminal. Sweet Jebus what the heck are governments for if not to preserve this kind of stuff.
posted by Mitheral at 10:10 PM on August 9, 2010

This is so sad. Between this and Google, of all entities, sticking the knife in net neutrality, it's not a good day. Human beings have always been doing stupid and evil things, but it really seems we're past a tipping point. You just have to wonder about all these (many, many) people who have no consideration except for stinking filthy money.

Won't somebody please save the seedbank... please?
posted by blue shadows at 10:23 PM on August 9, 2010

I would also contribute to any legal or buy out fund. Does anybody know if ther is any cordinated opposition to this move?
posted by foleypt at 12:57 AM on August 10, 2010


But very Russian.
posted by Goofyy at 2:02 AM on August 10, 2010

So while the Hague goes pissing around chatting up supermodels about the entirely speculative origin of a few pebbles from 20 years ago... A real crime against not just humanity, but the entire planet, goes all but unnoticed.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

And I'll second Epenthesis - good riddance, we earned it.
posted by pla at 3:25 AM on August 10, 2010

Where's Poison Ivy when you need her?
posted by clvrmnky at 7:09 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Or when Bush tried to hand over port security to a well connected firm in Dubai

You mean when a British company tried to sell their interests in certain of their North American ports (not the security ffs) to a legitimate port operations company based in Dubai? When American politicians funded by contributions from the losing bidder for those same ports used American anti-Arab xenophobia to scupper the deal?

You're right that it was an example of private interests and greed over-riding the legitimate functions of government, sorely mistaken as who the corrupt individuals were.
posted by atrazine at 7:14 AM on August 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

This reads like a bad game of Dwarf Fortress.

posted by edguardo at 9:36 AM on August 10, 2010

atrazine: Do you have links backing that up? All I was going on was a fairly vague impression from the popular press, so it's entirely possible that you're right.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:52 PM on August 10, 2010

Atrazine's right. I know I'm not adding much by being too lazy to hunt down links myself, but the popular press was very much spinning in the wrong direction on that one. The port had been owned by a foreign company for years, and it was only when the interests (again, not the security) were going to go to a company from Dubai were people suddenly and conspicuously Very Concerned.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:36 PM on August 11, 2010

"Vavilov's Ghost" is the story of a genius who used to tell his staff "Life is short, one must hurry." Join producer Neenah Ellis as she travels to St. Petersburg, and explores the world's oldest seed bank, its intellectual legacy, and the roots of what we now call biodiversity.
posted by mek at 10:54 AM on August 14, 2010

Just as an update, it seems like there has been a lot of world attention focused on this, and destruction has been delayed for at least a month (dateline Monday 16 August 2010 17.03 BST).

It still needs to be followed closely, and I have friends who used to coordinate scientific exchanges with Russia and others at the UC Davis Plant Sciences Department; if I hear anything interesting from them I'll post it.

We might not have to write off the human species quite yet...
posted by foonly at 11:49 PM on August 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev tweets for a 'scrutinization'.
posted by unliteral at 7:14 PM on August 23, 2010

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